Earlier this week former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa made his most overt hint at a possible 2020 presidential bid. As reported in India’s The Hindu newspaper, the brother of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when queried as to whether he would run for president, did not rule it out – adding that he would weigh up his options and do what he could for the country.
The most eye-catching of Gotabaya’s comments however was the revelation that he was ‘studying’ Donald Trump. Drawing similarities between himself and the US Commander-in-chief as both businessmen without political backgrounds, Gotabaya acknowledged that he considered Trump a role model of sorts.
This, in light of Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka’s recent offensive aimed at airbrushing Gotabaya’s sordid history most likely in preparation for a presidential bid is worrying, but not wholly unexpected. Like Trump, Gotabaya is looking to prey on the insecurities of a divided populace. The 8 January 2015 vote in favour of good governance was a vote for change, albeit more akin to Obama 2008 rather than Trump 2016, but since then the bond scandal, accusations of nepotism, and a lacklustre crackdown on corruption have left many disillusioned with the Yahapalanaya Government.
Indeed, if you are reading this piece seated somewhere in Colombo and are feeling disillusioned with the present Government, take a moment and try to comprehend the state of mind of the rural Sri Lankan. Ask yourself if anything has changed significantly for them since the new regime came into power. This is not to say that the present Government is not doing its part to help rural Sri Lanka, but it is a warning that widespread discontent can be harnessed by nefarious forces, as evidenced by one Donald J. Trump, if the legitimate grievances of the masses are not addressed.
Trump capitalised on similar disharmony within the United States and harkened back to an era that never was with his slogan ‘Make America Great Again’. Those such as Dr. Jayatilleka, who are pushing for a Gotabaya/Mahinda ticket in 2020, are attempting to hoodwink the Sri Lankan public in the same way. The signs of which are already plain to see.
At the start of the week, Gotabaya questioned the wisdom of a war crimes investigation in the midst of reconciliation efforts. “How can you talk about investigations and foreign judges at the same time bringing these communities together?” he told a Foreign Correspondents Association of Sri Lanka. This question alone highlights his thinking, and why a unified Sri Lanka can never be under his rule.
Accountability is the acceptance of wrongdoings so that aggrieved parties can heal and move past traumatic events. Sri Lanka has for years had various Commissions of Inquiry that have found incriminating evidence against the State, but none of which have led to any form of accountability. The latest commission, the Office of Missing Persons, has been handed considerable more power and looks to be potential starting point to building trust between the government and those families affected.
In the end a unified Sri Lanka is the only successful path forward, and the art of unification is not something you can learn by studying Donald Trump.